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Why Do We Have To Go To School?

Empty Classroom

Why does school exist? When did kids start going, and why is it mandatory? Why are there 12 grades in school? Why do we call teachers by their last names? In this episode, we get schooled on school by sociologist Emily Rauscher and National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript


"Why does school exist?" - Marcelo, 10, Colombia

"We have schools for a lot of reasons. They do a lot of things for us, for individuals and for our society. They help kids learn skills like, reading, writing, math and the ability to think critically, to see things from multiple views so when they grow up they can make informed decisions," says Rauscher, a sociologist at Brown University. "Schools do other things [too]. They help kids learn social skills, to get along with others, how to talk with authority figures like teachers. Beyond teaching skills, schools do a lot of other things for us: they take care of children during the day so their parents know they're safe while they're working to earn money, and schools provide a sense of community."

In some places, especially rural places, Rauscher says schools are often gathering places for meetings and community events.

Teacher Rodney Robinson, the Council of Chief State School Officers 2019 National Teacher of the Year, says that schools help prepare kids for adulthood.

"School exists because the world is so big and it's important you know everything you need to know to be successful in this world. School prepares you for when you're a grown up and you can go out in the world and do great things," Robinson says. "And when you do those great things, you'll be able to thank school for preparing your for it!"

Listen to the full episode to hear the answers to all of your school questions, including how mandatory education and attendence came about.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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